Early Spring Activities in Central Vermont
You often hear the phrase, “The Best of Both Worlds.” That’s often used to describe something that combines two things you love. Hot chocolate AND marshmallows, cheese AND crackers … you get the picture. I had a weekend a few years ago when I was able to combine three of my favorite things. I think of this now on the cusp of the ski season because I hope to repeat this performance later this season. In one weekend, I skied, camped and hiked. That was a truly spectacular weekend—the best of three worlds.
In late fall/early winter and in late winter/early spring in New England, you can often combine activities and get a couple of your favorite outdoor grooves on—biking and hiking, hiking and paddling, anything and skiing. Spring in Vermont is the perfect time to do so. I spent that “triathlon” weekend camping at camping at Gifford Woods State Park in central Vermont, late season skiing at nearby Killington, and hiking on the Appalachian Trail, which passes right through Gifford Woods State Park and winds its way through the campground. There are actually two campsites on either side of where the trail heads back into the woods.
The campground at Gifford Woods State Park remains featured in the book Best Tent Camping: New England. Whenever I’ve done a new edition, I take out five old ones (which becomes increasingly difficult) and add five new ones (which is much easier). Gifford Woods State Park has been in there since the beginning, and remains in the fourth edition.
You could spend weeks hiking around there. There’s the entire Coolidge Range and Coolidge State Park, Pico Mountain, the AT runs right through there, and there’s a spectacular old-growth forest right near the campground. Hiking through the old-growth forest is like a religious experience. You walk amongst massive old maple, birch, ash and hemlock trees. It’s extraordinarily peaceful and serene. The trees are some of the largest you’re likely to find in New England.
And if you’d like to log some miles on the Appalachian Trail, it heads out of the campground right between sites 10 and 12. I was lucky enough to score site 12 that weekend when I hiked, camped and skied. From Gifford Woods, the AT heads south to Old Maine Junction (even though you’re in Vermont), and crosses Route 4. Here it ascends Pico Mountain, which is a good sturdy hike with some diverse ravines and changing forest character. Near the top, you can veer off the AT for a bit and hike into Pico Camp, which is a great place for lunch or a break before heading back down. The Pico hike is included as one of the AT day hikes in Best Day Hikes on the Appalachian Trail: New England.
I’ve saved the best for last. While that weekend I’m raving about included camping and hiking, skiing was the reason I was there. That is the pursuit that truly drives my soul; the activity that gets me up at 5 a.m. with a smile on my face and ready to rock (even before coffee).
Spring skiing at Killington on the Superstar trail is a spring tradition. It is bittersweet though—while sloshing through the massive soft bumps in the warm spring sun with a cool breeze blowing is a delight, you know the end is near. It’s a similar feeling to hiking up to Tuckerman Ravine. I love it, but it’s invariably among the final ski days of the season. It’s a good reminder to ski in the moment. I’ll be back next spring for a repeat of the “three-peat!”